X Marks the Spot: Treasure Off Florida Coast

Treasure hunters keep finding gold and silver from the 1715 Spanish Fleet.

ByABC News via via logo
February 09, 2009, 12:08 PM

Feb. 9, 2008— -- Some 60 miles off Florida's eastern shores, beneath the ocean's depths, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold and royal jewels are up for grabs.

It's called the Treasure Coast and it is the result of the 300 year old mystery of the 1715 Spanish fleet.

"What dreams are made of" -- that's how legendary treasure hunter Mel Fisher describes it. Fisher, who has been searching the area for the past three decades, says it "seems like there's a shipwreck every quarter of a mile."

The 1715 fleet was traveling back to Spain from America with a ship full of gold, silver and artifacts gathered in Havana, when they got caught in a hurricane off the coast of Florida.

At least 10 ships sank and about 1,000 people perished as the storm ravaged the fleet.

Historians estimate the value of the registered cargo that sank to the ocean floor to be worth hundreds of millions dollars.

Over the years the Spanish did recover some of its riches, but it's believed four ships from the sunken fleet were never found.

The best part? "Finders keepers" is still the rule for treasure hunters.

Doug Pope owns and operates the Polly-L, one of the most sophisticated treasure hunting ships on the waters today.

So why does he do it? He says it's not only for the thrill, but also because "there's a lot of money to be made in it."

The work can be arduous, and at times dangerous.

"We have a saying, that's 'Methodology and technology equals success,' -- if it was easy then everyone would be doing it" says Brandon.

Like Pope, Brandon is a contemporary treasure hunter, or as he likes to say, "an historical shipwreck solver."

"The gold shines forever and it can lay on the bottom of the ocean for a thousand years and when you dive down there and you see this glittering gold laying amongst the wreath and seashells and the fish that are down there, it's very very exciting, it's very hard to describe, it really is thrilling" says Brandon.

When gold and other artifacts are brought up from the ocean bottom, everything is stored in fresh water. In some cases, it's difficult to tell what has just been pulled up because it has been encrusted and fused together by the underwater elements and time.

For some, treasure hunting is more than a business -- it's in their blood. Taffi Fisher is the daughter of Mel Fisher, who began searching for the 1715's rich remains more than 30 years ago.

"I don't know what it's like not to be born into a treasure-hunting family. It is a legacy and we need to carry it forward for our kids and their kids." says Taffi.

Taffi who now follows in her father's footsteps says she like to keep her father's hunting motto in mind: "Today's the day."

"I guess I do it for the love of it -- for the adventure, fun, romance and adventure. It's different than any other job on Earth. When you go underwater, it's like a whole different world. It's so peaceful and beautiful and quiet … it's priceless, whatever is out there is priceless."

Click here to learn more about marine conservation and visit www.ourmotherocean.org.

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